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Sub-Genre Media Newsletter:
Weekly musings on indie film, media, branded content and related items from Brian Newman.

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Follow the Money

October 27, 2021

The phrase “follow the money” usually means to follow the money to find the real dirt on someone or something, especially in politics. But what I mean here is that filmmakers should follow the money if they want success in today’s film world. And if you don’t follow where the money’s going, well… it ain’t gonna be easy for you, but more power to you Super-Indie.
Exhibit A. This past week, Variety had an article on Story Syndicate - the powerhouse production company behind Becoming Costeau, and a ton of other docs, founded by Liz Garbus and Dan Cogan. It's a great intro to the company if you don't know them (most people know one or both of the founders, and full disclosure - I like them, and think they're doing some of the best work in the business), and it explains how they work, how it was set up and why. That last part is the most interesting to me, and it speaks to following the money. Co-founder Dan Cogan readily admits the company was founded because he saw the writing on the wall, and:

“I was paying attention to the fact that the streamers were buying fewer and fewer films and instead were making (their own) docs and docuseries,” explains Cogan, who serves as co-president along with his wife. “So, it seemed clear to me that the future was going to lay in actually making films and series for the streamers as opposed to making and financing them independently and selling them, which is what I was doing at Impact.” 
I’ve written about this a few times before (Bye Bye, Equity Pie, and The New Rules), but I’m glad to see this so clearly articulated for those who never seem to believe me. Sure, Cogan and Garbus also wanted to work together, and had some other reasons; but they’re also smart, and could follow where the money was going – from one business model to another – and made the move before it might have been too late.

It’s really simple – while the doc/nonfiction/unscripted space is booming, most of this is in originals, not acquisitions. There are exceptions, but for the most part, the buyers don’t want to buy your completed doc. In fact, it’s become such a strong trend that one former sales agent recently confided that the sales agents don’t even want these films, because they know that gig is up as well. Everyone is focused on pitching earlier, and earlier, and only moving forward on production of stuff if it’s being “commissioned” and has a home on one of the major streamers or broadcasters (those that still exist are really becoming hybrid anyways). 
This is also true in the fiction world – fewer films are being acquired after being independently produced. Which means – follow the money – you need to also be following their lead in the fiction space as well. Of course, this is easier said than done – you need contacts, great ideas, a track record, and the right project at the right time. But it’s not like raising indie equity was every all that easy either, or that you don't need those same things to "make it" in the indie space. So this is just another new thing producers need to learn and focus on for success (and it’s what’s old is new again, as this was the case a long time ago, and has been in foreign films for quite some time). 
Sure, there will be exceptions. Especially if you think you’ve got that perfect project that will attract those higher prices later. Or if you just don’t have access, but have a film that just must be made. Or that falls outside of the commercial needs of the buyers – but at this moment, with all eyeballs on the streamers, you should also consider whether this is the time for things they won’t be buying. There’s also a good case for hybrid models – reducing your equity exposure by bringing on soft money (grants, donations, foreign co-productions, etc), going to the smaller-ish distributors earlier (because they need films that are being lost to Netflix, et al.), and when appropriate, looking for brand funding, which can also bring marketing support. As I’ve said before – zig when others zag and build a new model.  
But the smartest thing you can do right now is to follow the lead of folks like Story Syndicate, and follow the money to where the current business model actually is, not where we might wish it were. 

Stuff I'm Reading

Questions you Should ask a Film Festival Before Accepting their Invite: You've gotten the email - your film has been accepted into the great FestivalX, and now you need to confirm your acceptance right away. Before you accept, however, do you know what you're getting into? Is the fest going to be in person, online, or some hybrid. How will your film be shown? What are they offering filmmakers? A fee? A stipend to attend? All expenses paid for you and a producer (rare these days)? Will the films be geoblocked or protected in any way? Will you get a report? How do I know this stuff if they don't tell me? You ask. But how do you ask without coming off as a jerk? Well, Sean Farnel (a former programmer, and fest consultant) has a good article on what questions you should ask, and how to ask them. He plans to post things like this more often, so check out the article and think about subscribing.

German Film and TV Companies, Netflix Launch Green Production Initiative: Major German production companies and broadcasters are setting an example to the rest of the industry. Scott Roxborough (The Hollywood Reporter) explains that in the last couple weeks, Constantin Film, Bavaria Film, Studio Hamburg, UFA, and a handful of other production companies and broadcasters have signed a ‘Green Shooting’ initiative, entailing a commitment “to certain minimum ecological standards, such as using LED spotlights on set, switching to vegetarian food in canteens and avoiding short-haul flights, or switching to train journeys for the crew, to reduce their environmental impact.” And some of the biggest news is that Netflix has also signed on for its German commissions. Green Shooting signatories are volunteers, though in the near future we can expect various states within Germany to require production companies to operate sustainably. Good start for Netflix, but it’s time to see this kind of movement toward sustainable production in our own country. (GSH)

​​An Indie Streaming Service Takes on the Giants With a Clever Antidote to Bad Movies: Anyone subscribed to the big streamers (Netflix, HBO...etc) knows that while they offer incredible quantity, quality is often lacking. So a Swedish indie streaming service called Draken Film is using tech to solve this problem with a campaign called “The Bad Movie Index,” and it’s a pretty cool idea: As more people watch poorly rated content on the big streaming platforms (rated on sites like Rotten Tomatoes or IMDB) the cost of a subscription to Draken becomes cheaper. Named Sweden’s best streaming service in 2019 by Tech magazine IDG, Draken aims “ to encourage more people to broaden their film taste beyond whatever is trending and discover quality cinema.” Adweek’s Brittaney Kiefer has the news. (GSH)

Branded Content
Brand Storytelling Theater Selections: I mentioned last week that Brand Storytelling had announced the finalists for its Festival/Theater in January, 2022 - a selection of some of the best new brand funded film work. Well, now they've also created a nice little video that explains the selections, the jurors, and the finalists- check it out here.

In its Nascency, Virtual Fashion is a Burgeoning Opportunity for Fashion and Luxury Brands: Fashion is weaving itself into the gaming industry thanks to the Metaverse and thanks to Gen-Zers for their love of gaming and fashion, and appreciation of (or fixation with) social media. We’ve talked about the marriage of the two industries (fashion and gaming) here before: Gamers can buy “skins” for their avatars, and recently brands have gotten in on the game (for instance, gamers can buy Gucci goods with real money on the gaming platform, Roblox). Studies revealing that the majority of Gen-Zers value their online presentation over their real-life presentation have led experts to question whether virtual fashion will become more important than physical fashion. And indeed, the market for in-game “skins” “is predicted to reach nearly $50 billion by the end of 2022” according to the Guardian reports. The takeaway here is that while fashion is certainly changing shape and brands will be quick to catch on. But the virtual runway raises many unprecedented legal questions. UDL Intellectual Property’s Alison Cole poses some of these: “Who owns the rights in a digital garment? If a design exists virtually, but is copied in reality, will that be an infringement? What about the other way around? And how can digital infringements be ‘seized’? When considering fashion events, or gaming events that feature fashion designs, who will own the rights to the video and/or audio recording of the event when the event was created rather than staged? What about the image rights of those individuals who appear in the event if the models are avatars?” Read The Fashion Law’s piece for more on the subject.  (GSH)

Big Net Neutrality News, as Biden Nominates Gigi Sohn to FCC, and Jessica Rosenworcel as FCC Chair: Big news this week on the policy front, especially for Net Neutrality, as Biden finally got around to putting forth acting chair Jessica Rosenworcel as Chair of the FCC, and Gigi Sohn as a new commissioner. This latter move is super important, as Sohn has been one of the strongest advocates for Net Neutrality for quite some time now. I first met Gigi when she had just launched Public Knowledge, after a stint at Ford. She went on to serve on the staff of another commissioner, and she's continued to be a smart voice in the space. She's also a no-bullshit person, which is rare in DC, and if confirmed, she'd be the first openly LGBTQIA commissioner in history. Problem is, there's a short window for their confirmations, and the Republicans will fight these for sure - because if they can delay this process, they will have a majority on the commission. Yikes. Read the news at the Hollywood Reporter.

Inspirational Black figures in gaming and technology: Black history month is nearing its end in the UK, and TechRadar contributor Jamel Smith decides to celebrate the history with a piece about some of the most important Black figures in gaming and tech. Check out the article to learn about Jerry Lawson who survived Jim Crow and went on to revolutionize gaming, about Muriel Tramis, the first Black-female videogame designer who created a “game about slaves orchestrating a rebellion against their slave masters”, and other inspirational, cutting-edge Black figures in the industry.  (GSH)

(GSH = Articles written by Sub-Genre's Gabriel Schillinger-Hyman)
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